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Knowing When to Back Off

By Heather Idoni

Added Monday, November 03, 2008

The Homeschooler's Notebook
Encouragement and Advice for Homeschool Families
Vol. 9 No 87 November 3, 2008
ISSN: 1536-2035
Copyright (c) 2008 - Heather Idoni, FamilyClassroom.net

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Guest Article
-- Knowing When to Back Off
Helpful Tip
-- Congress for Kids
Reader Question
-- Testing My Children
Additional Notes
-- Newsletter Archives
-- Sponsorship Information
-- Reprint Information
-- Subscriber Information

Guest Article

Knowing When to Back Off
by Barbara Frank


Sometimes new homeschooling moms ask me when they should teach
their kids to read, or when to sign their children up for music
lessons. New homeschooling moms naturally have a lot of questions,
and some of them are "when" questions.

I think one of the most important questions a homeschooling mom
can ask is when to back off, because sometimes we moms are so
eager to do everything right that we overdo it.

For example, let's say your child is learning how to subtract
fractions, and it's not going well. You can see that he's coming
close to the point of losing it. You try to explain the concept
in a different way but he's still not getting it. Instead, he's
getting teary-eyed.

No matter what the "experts" say about what grade a child should
be in when he learns how to subtract fractions, if you've got a
child on the edge, you need to back off. He might not say so in
words, but you know him well enough to see that he's hit the wall.
Trust your knowledge of your child. Take a break from fractions
for a while. You can always come back to it later.

Knowing when to back off doesn't just apply to the child who is
overwhelmed by his schoolwork. Sometimes we need to back off when
our child is enthused about something. Years ago I recall getting
all excited over my kids' enthusiasm about frogs. It started
when they found a frog in the basement window well and requested
a container to put it in. I gave them an empty coffee can, and
they caught the frog, named it, carried it around in the coffee
can, and showed it to their friends. They gave it some grass and
learned it wasn't interested in grass. They put a little water
in the can in case it got thirsty. They were really into this frog.

Being a proactive mom who couldn't wait to capitalize on their
newly discovered interest in frogs, I brought home a stack of
library books about frogs, expecting them to pore over them in
their excitement over their new pet. But they ignored the books.
So I had them sit down with me so we could read about frogs. And
you know what? That pretty much extinguished their interest in
frogs. I didn't even get a chance to do the art project about frogs
that I found in one of the books. In fact, I had to let the poor
frog escape from his coffee can when his young captors forgot
about him.

Over time I discovered that I had to let the kids learn freely
instead of jumping in and turning an interest into a learning
experience. This wasn't easy for me; my own reaction to something
new that interests me is to investigate it by reading about it.
But I needed to let my kids learn in their own way. I had to learn
when to back off.

You can see where we often need to back off even though our inten-
tions are good. But what if it's not a matter of intentions but
instructions? For instance, the guide to the curriculum we're using
has a timetable that's been tested by the experts. We won't complete
the curriculum by the end of the year unless we stick to the time-
table. And yet life keeps intervening, and we fall further and
further behind, until it becomes obvious that we're never going to
finish this curriculum in time.

What to do? We could:

1) Institute seven-day-a-week school in order to catch up (that'll
go over well, won't it?)

2) Cut out something else that the kids are doing to leave more time
for the curriculum.

3) Just back off of the curriculum.

You knew I was going to pick #3, didn't you? Remember, curriculum
is meant to serve you; you are not supposed to serve the curriculum.
When you fall behind on a curriculum, something is wrong. The
timetable might be too ambitious for your family. You might want
to stretch the program over a longer time period, or combine lessons
where possible. Or perhaps it's just not the right curriculum for
you and your kids.

It's okay to admit that, by the way. Yes, I know you spent good
money on it, but most of the time you have no way of knowing how a
curriculum will work for your family without actually trying it.
Also, the curriculum might have been written for actual schools,
which are very different from home schools. Such programs are more
appropriate for captive audiences (i.e. schoolrooms) than people
having a life.

Whatever the problem is, back off of the curriculum and come up with
an alternate plan. Expect that this will often happen to you when
you homeschool. If you're not already a flexible person, you will
become one!

Of course, backing off is not something that comes naturally to most
homeschooling moms. We're used to being proactive when it comes to
our children's education. But if we can become aware of situations
where backing off is the smart thing to do, we will see that home-
schooling becomes easier for us. And that's always a good thing!


Copyright 2008 Barbara Frank/Cardamom Publishers

Barbara Frank is the mother of four homeschooled-from-birth children
ages 15-25, a freelance writer/editor, and the author of "Life Prep
for Homeschooled Teenagers", "The Imperfect Homeschooler's Guide to
Homeschooling", and "Homeschooling Your Teenagers". You'll find her
on the Web at www.cardamompublishers.com and www.barbarafrankonline.com


Do you have comments to share? Please do!
Email Heather at: mailto:heather@familyclassroom.net



Helpful Tip


"This website has all sorts of quizzes and interactive learning
activities for kids on a span of ages related mostly to our
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Do you have an idea, experience, or tip to share? Please write!
Send to: HN-ideas@familyclassroom.net

Last Issue's Reader Question

"I am new to homeschooling and my state doesn't require any testing.
I have a 4th grader and a 6th grader and I can see improvement from
last year. However, for my own peace of mind, I wondered if anyone
knows of a good way to test and track how well my boys are doing
this year. I would prefer something free or close to. I've tried
searching online and end up with a lot of dead ends." -- Rachel

Our Readers' Responses

"Rachel, please don't worry about testing! You've seen the growth
in your children; trust your instincts. Standardized tests don't
measure what you and I consider to be important, and are not an
accurate indicator of the things they do test. For example, for
testing spelling, you pronounce the word, and the child chooses
from four or five selections which spelling is correct. In what
real-life situation do we spell by choosing from a list of possible
spellings?!! If your children are lacking in any area, it will show
up when they need to know it, and you can address it at that time.
Be glad you aren't required to test your children." -- Mary Beth


"You might want to try Hewitt Homeschooling's PASS tests, the
Personalized Achievement Summary System, for grades 3-8, at
www.hewitthomeschooling.com . They can be given at home by parents
(no degree necessary), are untimed so students can work at their
own pace, and they test the main subjects only such as Language,
Reading, and Math. Cost for each test is $29, which isn't cheap,
but not super expensive either for what you get. They provide
directions and the results (with a thorough explanation of what
they mean) and tips on what to do to help the kids improve. I
liked them because they were a non-stressful way to not only see
where the kids are, but also to provide them with test practice
for when they get older. It isn't necessary to give them every
year; if cost is really an issue, alternate years or just do them
in the last few years before highschool." -- Karen

"My state doesn't require testing, either, but from time to time,
I do test my kids just to see where their strengths and weaknesses
are, and to make sure I am aware of any trouble spots. I use Seton
Testing Services at www.setontesting.com . Their service is for
homeschoolers, but they don't have the requirements - proctoring,
etc. - that the other services have. And they are cheaper! Take
a look." -- Mindy


"Hi Rachel -- I know some curriculum programs offer placement
testing. We use Alpha Omega Life Pacs, and I ordered the placement
test books. The ones I got are for 8 yrs (1st thru 8th grade) and
I believe they were less than $5.00. You may be able to use these
-- at least it would give you an idea of what your kids have
learned." -- Mary B.

Answer our NEW Question

"I have just started homeschooling and have been making up my own
curriculum -- but I would like to use a more formal one. The only
thing is, I don't know what a day should look like -- ie: a schedule.
I'm looking for "first you study this, then you study this, and here
is how you do it". Can you help me with this?" -- Debi D.


Do you have an answer for Debi?

Please send your email: mailto:HN-answers@familyclassroom.net

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